James Ponder
42nd Governor of Delaware
In office
January 17, 1871 – January 19, 1875
Preceded byGove Saulsbury
Succeeded byJohn P. Cochran
Member of the Delaware Senate
In office
January 6, 1865 – January 6, 1869
Member of the Delaware House of Representatives
In office
January 6, 1857 – January 6, 1859
Personal details
Born(1819-10-31)October 31, 1819
Milton, Delaware
DiedNovember 5, 1897(1897-11-05) (aged 78)
Milton, Delaware
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseSallie Waples

James Ponder (October 31, 1819 – November 5, 1897) was an American merchant and politician from Milton in Sussex County, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family

Ponder was born near Milton, Delaware, son of John and Hester Milby Ponder. He married Sallie Waples in 1851 and had four children: Ida, John, James Waples, and Anna. They lived at 414 Federal Street and were members of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Milton. He inherited his father's business and expanded it into shipbuilding, agriculture, and banking.

Professional and political career

Ponder was elected to the state house for the 1857/58 session and then to the state senate for the 1865/66 and 1867/68 sessions. He was Speaker during the 1867/68 session. In 1870 he was elected Governor of Delaware, defeating the Republican candidate, Thomas Boone Coursey. He served from January 17, 1871 until January 19, 1875.

The election of 1870 was the first opportunity for African-Americans to vote in Delaware elections, and Ponder's tenure was marred by an ongoing response to this change. Ponder himself was in no way sympathetic, saying to the General Assembly that the Federal government was wrong in extending the franchise to "uneducated Negroes." The 1870 election featured rigged voter lists that effectively denied the vote to most African-Americans, and resulted in all the seats in the General Assembly going to the Democratic Party. Two years later, in response, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant sent in federal troops to police the elections, winning a few elections for Republicans, but undoubtedly prolonging the bitterness felt towards the federal government and their Republican followers in Delaware. The immediate result was the passage of a poll tax and the "Assessment Act of 1873," that effectively allowed tax collectors the ability to remove people from voter list, allegedly for not paying their taxes, and made it enormously complicated for the voter to have their name restored.

Ponder's term also featured the expansion of state offices into all of what is now known as the "old State House," and a thorough going restoration that included the first installation of heating and gas lights. The most controversial action of the term was Ponder's appointment of his brother-in-law, former U.S. Senator Willard Saulsbury as Chancellor of Delaware. Saulsbury had left the Senate as a disgraced alcoholic, and promised Ponder he would change his ways if he was appointed. Evidently Saulsbury kept his promise.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1871–1872 76th Democratic Charles Gooding Democratic Sewell C. Biggs
1873–1874 77th Democratic Allen V. Leslie Democratic Joseph Burchenal

Death and legacy

Ponder died at Milton and is buried there in the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery.

The Gov. James Ponder House at Milton was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.[1]


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. Members of the Delaware General Assembly took office the first Tuesday of January. State senators have a four-year term and state representatives have a two-year term. The governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
State Representative Legislature Dover January 6, 1857 January 6, 1859
State Senator Legislature Dover January 6, 1865 January 6, 1869
Governor Executive Dover January 17, 1871 January 19, 1875
Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1856–1857 69th State House Democratic Peter F. Causey Sussex at-large
1865–1866 73rd State House Democratic Gove Saulsbury Sussex at-large
1867–1868 74th State House Democratic Gove Saulsbury Speaker Sussex at-large
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1870 Governor James Ponder Democratic 11,464 56% Thomas B. Coursey Republican 9,130 44%


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.


Places with more information

Party political offices Preceded byGove Saulsbury Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware 1870 Succeeded byJohn P. Cochran Political offices Preceded byGove Saulsbury Governor of Delaware 1871–1875 Succeeded byJohn P. Cochran